Alumni Reunion: Dennis Polonich
Former enforcer played for the Red Wings from 1974-83
Do you keep in touch with any of your former Red Wings teammates? If so, who?
Dennis Hextall is my most common contact, and others are Reed Larson, Paul Woods, because I’m still in the hockey industry and I run into a lot of the guys in the various rinks.
Which of the current Red Wings is your favorite? And why?
Steve Yzerman, he’s no longer playing, but the way he conducted himself, and the class act that he was. And probably Chris Osgood, he’s a bit of a friend of mine, an acquaintance that I’ve known through the years.
What was your favorite memory as a Red Wing?
Probably just being there, stepping on the Olympia ice. I wanted to play one game in the NHL, that’s all I ever dreamed about, so just the fact of being there, pulling on a Red Wings sweater, and then of course when I was named captain. You don’t realize it until later, what an impact it had, how many guys get to be captain of an Original Six team?
Which of the guys you played with was the toughest?
Probably Dan Maloney and (Bryan) Bugsy Watson. Dennis Hextall, Nick Libett, Terry Harper, I played a couple years with Gary Bergman, but I’d have to say Dan Maloney and Bugsy Watson.
Who was the funniest?
Oh boy, I think Walt McKechnie was good, and Bryan Watson was a real prankster. I’m sure that they got me over the years, but I was pretty good at dishing it out myself. I remember one incident: I had Dennis Hextall and Terry Harper, who were huge outdoorsmen, they were hunters, so I bought three duck calls and spread them around the team, and we just drove them crazy in the various hotels and airports with these duck calls.
Who had the biggest heart?
I’d probably say Paul Woods was a heart-and-soul guy. Terry Harper, Dan Maloney played with huge hearts, and of course Bugsy Watson was unbelievable for a smallish type defenseman; the way he played, he had a huge heart. … Mickey Redmond was a true Red Wing and a guy that I looked up to.
What was your favorite restaurant in metro Detroit?
Joe Muer’s seafood was great, and on a lower scale there was Joe’s Bar, I think it was on Northwestern and Lodge. They had great burgers and we became friends with the owner. But Joe Muer’s seafood and Chuck Joseph’s steakhouse.
How has the NHL changed since you played?
Business, it’s all business now. You see the advertising all over the rink, the advertising on the ice, the advertising on the boards, the salaries and stuff, the salaries that the players make, the endorsement deals. It’s big business now.
Toughest team (other than the Red Wings) when you played?
The Philadelphia Flyers, the Broad Street Bullies, they had some tough individuals, but when they were together, they became like a pack of wolves really. I used to get under their skin, I always played well against them because I was alert.
What do you love most about the game?
Just the camaraderie, the joking and the kibitzing, and I love to compete. I love golf, that soothes my appetite for the competitiveness, but I just like being around the guys. When you do it all your life, that’s the only thing you know.
Who had the greatest influence on your career?
Probably my junior coach, who’s passed on now. Paddy Ginnell, who coached Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach, in Flin Flon, Manitoba, when I went to play junior. And after that, probably Doug Barkley, who was my first pro coach, and between the two of them, they molded the way I played.
What advice would you give to kids playing today?
Just to work hard. I’m a player agent, I mentor a lot of kids, and when I ask young kids what they need, what’s the biggest skill they need to succeed, a lot of them say shooting, passing, skating, and I always tell them that they need good work habits. If you have good work habits and you’re respectful, you’re going to succeed in life.